World Bulletin/News Desk
Opposition groups in Equatorial Guinea walked out of the second day of a rare round of talks with President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's government, accusing it of failing to follow through on a promised amnesty for political offences.
Obiang, who has ruled the oil-rich state since 1979, announced the "national dialogue" - only the third such meeting in the country's history - in September and last month decreed the amnesty, a prerequisite for the opposition's participation.
Opposition groups, including political exiles, have greeted the talks with cautious optimism, saying they hoped Obiang might bow to international pressure and open up the political landscape long dominated by his family members and inner circle.
The meeting, which had been due to discuss issues including the participation of opposition movements in the country's politics, opened on Friday. But the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party - the only opposition group represented in parliament - and its allies left the negotiating table on Saturday, dealing an early blow to the talks.
"We have said very clearly that it seems irresponsible to continue at the table while our comrades are in prison," said Daniel Ayecaba Dario, head of the opposition Popular Union party.
Long accused of corruption and political repression by rights campaigners, the central African country has embarked on a charm offensive in recent years as it seeks to diversify its economy and attract new investors.
The amnesty decreed by the president last month allowed political exiles, some of whom have been convicted of crimes in absentia, to return to the country to participate in the talks.
Opposition groups have been calling for the release of prisoners whom it says were imprisoned for political reasons. The government says the prisoners in question were imprisoned for criminal not political offences.
The government's delegation at the talks denied the country was still holding political prisoners and said the opposition was undermining the law by calling for prisoners to be freed.
"The inmates referred to by the CPDS and its allies are deprived of their liberty for criminal offences and are not political prisoners," it said in a statement, adding that it hoped the opposition would return to the talks.
The government has regularly rejected accusations of corruption and prior to the amnesty had denied that there were any political prisoners in the country.
Equatorial Guinea, with a population of fewer than 800,000 people, is Africa's No. 3 energy producer behind Nigeria and Angola, hosting a number of oil companies including Marathon Oil and ExxonMobil.
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